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Antonio Vivaldi

Sonata in C major · RV 801

ed. Rebecca Kan

among Vivaldi’s instrumental works is a quadro which has recently
been given the catalogue number RV 801.(1) This work, published here
for the first time in modern edition, is comparable in quality to
many of Vivaldi’s concerti a quattro. Scored for three solo
instruments and basso continuo, it contains a wealth of
concertante elements, bringing to mind the style of the Venetian
composer’s concertos. The work’s ingenuity of approach,
particularly the even distribution of melodic interest among the
three obbligato parts, belies the still commonly held view that
the composer’s writing was stereotyped, formulaic and lacking in
contrapuntal complexity.

The quartet-sonata was not widely cultivated by Baroque composers, but
Vivaldi’s RV 801 conforms closely to the model established by the
genre’s leading exponents—the Frenchmen Louis-Antoine Dornel
(1680–1756), Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689–1755) and Louis-
Gabriel Guillemain (1705–70), and the Germans Johann Friedrich
Fasch (1688–1758), Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729), Jan Dismas
Zelenka (1679–1745) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767).(2) In
his 1752 treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversière zu
spielen, Johann Joachim Quantz wrote:

A quartet, or a sonata with three concertante instruments and a
bass, is the true touchstone of a genuine contrapuntist, and is
[also] often the downfall of those who are not solidly grounded in
their technique. Its vogue has never been great, hence its nature
may not be well known to many people. It is to be feared that
compositions of this kind will eventually become a lost art.

The genre indeed lasted barely more than fifty years, emerging
recognizably by 1706 (Dornel’s Op. 1 collection), reaching its
peak in the 1730s (Telemann’s Paris Quartets) and fading by the
1760s. Yet stylistically it is not without some interest, often
approaching a concerto for three or four solo instruments (cf.
Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, whose slow movement without
orchestra imitates quadro texture); with its three parts of equal
rank above a continuo bass, this ‘sonata-concerto’ can also be
seen as a natural development of the trio

Vivaldi’s single essay in the genre, though perhaps insignificant
compared with the output of other quadro composers, reveals the
Venetian’s quest for innovation, particularly his attraction to
‘new’, less common genres, of which his Introduzioni are notable
examples in the sacred vocal realm.(4) Furthermore, the existence of
this particular quadro raises the possibility of a historical
connection—albeit oblique —with the string quartets of the
Classical period (a link that remains open to future
investigation).(5) On historical and stylistic grounds, RV 801 may
be dated approximately to the beginning of the third decade of the
eighteenth century, when some of the composer’s instrumental
chamber concertos, such as RV 91, 98 and 107, were beginning to
emerge.(6) Like many of these works, his quadro is more likely to
have been written for a private patron who had no orchestra at his
disposal than for a large institution such as the Ospedale della

In the absence of an autograph source or a good primary copy, and
especially in view of the enigmatic inscription ‘Del Sign.re
Handel’ (or possibly ‘Haendel’) encountered at the end of the
continuo part, the element of doubt surrounding the authenticity of
RV 801 cannot be eliminated entirely. The work’s strongest claim
to authenticity lies in the music itself: numerous elements
conform to the familiar style of Vivaldi’s concertos—the four-
movement, slow –fast–slow–fast da chiesa layout, the ritornello-
form fast movements, the binary slow movements, the melodic
figurations in the opening two movements and the rhythmic devices
in the second Allegro are all orthodox Vivaldian gestures—and a
number of short passages are virtually identical with ones in the
authenticated works.(7) It is not wholly implausible that the
original score was headed ‘concerto’ but that the title was
subsequently altered in accordance with the German habit of
reserving the ‘grander’ generic label for works employing an

The present edition has been prepared from the work’s sole surviving
source, a set of four parts preserved in the Fürstenberg
Collection (Fü 3640a) at Schloss Herdringen, Germany.(8) The non-
autograph parts are in upright format, with the two treble parts
occupying a bifolio and the two lower ones a single folio. The
headings for the individual parts are:

1 Flauto Traversie o Hautbois
2 Violino Secondo ò / Hautbois
3 Violoncello ò / Basson Concertino
4 Cembalo

Evidence suggests that part 1 was copied by a different hand from
that responsible for the other parts: its calligraphy is distinct,
and the paper on which it is written is larger. Moreover, part 1 is
not assigned (even as an alternative choice) to the violin,
although the ‘violino secondo’ designation for part 2 implies a
complementary ‘violino primo’. Part 1, therefore, most likely
belonged to a set of parts (Set A, the rest of which are missing)
copied either earlier or later than the existing parts 2–4 (Set B).
It is impossible to ascertain which set was prepared first, or
whether one was copied directly from the other. But each may well
have been based independently on a lost copy text,
probably—judging from the kinds of error that occur—a score.

The attribution to Vivaldi appears in a contemporary inventory of
the music collection originally owned by Freiherr Hermann
Friedrich von Wittenhorst-Sonsfeld(t), a Dutch nobleman and naval
commander, before it passed to the Fürstenberg family when the
Freiherr’s line became extinct in 1738.(9) Item 14 in this
catalogue—the item with which the present edition is
concerned—reads: ‘sonata à 4. / 1. Hautbois 1. Travers / 2 Basson /
signr Vivaldi’ (with added annotation ‘adest’, i.e. present). It
is apparent from this entry that the instrumentation prescribed in
Set B, containing the extant parts 2–4, was not the same as that
of the set of parts consulted when the Sonsfeld catalogue was
prepared. Presumably, it was from Set A that the attribution to
Vivaldi was taken. Quite possibly, the manuscript part for
transverse flute / oboe (part 1), which itself gives no composer’s
name, is a relic of this missing set.

Rebecca Kan
Liverpool, September 2001

1 The new catalogue number supersedes the previous designation, RV Anh. 66, that first appeared in Peter Ryom, Verzeichnis der Werke Antonio Vivaldis (RV): Kleine Ausgabe (Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1979), 159. This change was communicated by Ryom to Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi in 2001. On this work, see Michael Talbot, ‘Vivaldi’s Quadro? The Case of RV Anh. 66 Reconsidered’, Analecta musicologica (forthcoming). I wish to thank Paul Everett and Michael Talbot for their help and advice in the preparation of this edition. 2 Victoria Halliwell, ‘The Quadro: The Emergence and Development of a Little-Known Genre’, M.Mus. diss. (University of Liverpool, 1998). 3 Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, trans. Edward G. Reilly (London: Faber, 1966), 316-17. 4 Michael Talbot, The Sacred Vocal Music of Antonio Vivaldi (Florence: Olschki, 1995), 300. 5 For a discussion of the quadro genre, see Michael Talbot, The Finale in Western Instrumental Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 157. 6 Cesare Fertonani, La musica strumentale di Antonio Vivaldi (Florence: Olschki, 1998), 85. 7 Examples are given in Talbot, ‘Vivaldi’s Quadro?’. 8 We are grateful to Bibliotheca Fürstenbergiana for permission to use this source for the present edition. 9 A facsimile of the Sonsfeld catalogue is reproduced in Jürgen Kindermann (ed.), Deutsches Musikgeschichtliches Archiv Kassel. Katalog der Filmsammlung, iv (Kassel, [etc.]: Bärenreiter, 1992), 160–1, 176–8.